If you’re like most people, you’ve probably thought at one time or another, “I don’t get paid enough for this…”
And, if you’re an expert business owner, that thought was also likely followed by, “There has got to be a way to charge more for the products and services I’m providing my clients.”
And you’re right! You definitely do, and in this episode, we’re joined by business speaker and coach Matt Essam to discuss just that.
The author of “Create & Prosper,” Matt coaches on a business framework that prioritizes projects in your business, finds your ideal client, and helps you charge accordingly.
As he puts it, “It’s easy to feel overwhelmed with all of the things you COULD do to grow your business. But deciding what to focus on and what to ignore can be a constant challenge… The good news is that there is a way out.”
Here, Matt breaks down that “way out” for us and outlines how you can confidently command the fees that you truly deserve.
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✅ Connect with Matt: https://www.mattessam.co.uk/
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Read the Transcription 🤓
Intro: You know those moments when you’re doing what you love in your business, maybe it’s standing on stage or creating content, whatever it is, you’re totally immersed, and time just seems to slip by? This is called the flow state. At Speaker Flow, we’re obsessed with how to get you there more often. Each week we’re joined by a new expert, where we share stories, strategies, and systems to help craft a business you love. Welcome to Technically Speaking.
Taylorr: We did it.
Taylorr: Look at us go.
Austin: We’re live.
Taylorr: We know how to press buttons.
Austin: Yes. So excited to be here. Matt, thank you so much for joining us. It’s so great to have you on this Friday morning, for us. It’s Brazil, right? You have to be in similar time zones to what we have here in the States. What’s the time zone difference?
Matt: Yeah, I think Brazil is four. It was four hours from the UK, when the clocks go back; it’s then going to be three hours. So, it’s, actually, really good because I’m near Sao Paulo, down in Florianópolis. So, yeah, we are, actually, further east than New York, I think.
Austin: Yeah. But I think it’s a two hour difference from New York. I think it’s a six hour difference between New York and London. And so, anyway, fascinating. I’m still amazed that we can have these types of conversations from different continents, so very cool.
Matt: Yeah, well don’t jinx it, man.
Taylorr: We’re not jinxing anything? Austin just wrote the song right there.
Austin: Knocking on wood. So, I’ve never been to Brazil. I’m curious, I know before we got into the recording you said that you’re attracted to the sunshine there, but what else do you like about Brazil? Why is that the place that you’ve chosen to hang out for a little while?
Matt: Interestingly, I met a guy on my last travels who didn’t stop banging on about it, and I just gave-in to him and said, fine, I’ll come check it out, basically. He’s Canadian and he just loves the place. He’s big into his surfing and stuff, and the outdoors and he was like, yeah, man, you have to come here, you’ll love it. And so, basically, I did my research and saw what time zone is it in, how different is it from the UK, can I get a reliable internet connection and all of that, kind of, stuff that you think about when you’re running a business fully remotely. And they all, kind of, aligned and accommodation out here is relatively cheap. I’m spending less than I would if I was living in the UK.
The weather’s pretty good and it’s that opportunity to just meet like-minded people and do different things, I think, segueing in a little bit to what we were talking about earlier is, I would class myself as a creative and I think as creatives, one of our highest needs is variety. And I have a lot of clients and a lot of friends where if stuff is the same for too long, they start going a little bit insane. And so, for me, in the UK, when it gets gray and cloudy and it’s the same journey to work every day, I just start to feel really down and I lose my creative inspiration.
So, for me, if there’s any opportunity to come where the sun is shining, where there’s beach, where there’s water, where there are mountains, where there’s nature and there are cool people, like-minded people doing stuff. Last Sunday I went sand boarding in the dunes, you definitely can’t do that in Leeds, so it’s difficult to say no to those opportunities, I think.
Austin: Yeah, that’s awesome, man. Know yourself too. It sounds like you came to the self-awareness a long time ago that you need a change of pace and you act on it. There are a lot of people that would come to that realization and then just stay stuck, so good for you for not doing that.
Matt: Yeah, And it’s difficult, man. Because one thing I’ve realized in life, and we’re going to go pretty philosophical pretty quickly, but there’s always a sacrifice, right? To have one thing, you always have to give something else up. So, super difficult, for me. There are a lot of relationships, close relationships I have back home in the UK, friends, family, romantic partners, things like that. But I’ve, kind of, had to say, look, I just need this for me, I need this for my soul. And I’m going to be gone for three months, maybe a little bit more. And that stuff’s tough, but then you get all of the other nourishment and you meet other people and you get your connection and things in different ways.
So, yeah, overall, I think you just have to do what you know is right in your gut, because otherwise you’re just, kind of, making yourself suffer unnecessarily. If you have the opportunity to go and do that, and I, kind of, believe that everybody does, if everyone wanted it enough, but most people don’t, they’re not that bothered about travel or these things. A lot of people value security over variety or connection or whatever it is, right? So, they’ve built their lives around that and that’s totally cool. Maybe family is more important to them and they have kids and a wife and that’s their, kind of, variety. But, for me, I don’t have those things, so I, kind of, get it in other places.
Taylorr: Totally. Yeah, man, for sure.
Austin: I love that man. Starting out with some mic drops.
Taylorr: Yeah, that’s right. Is that something you learned along the way, Matt? Or did you just always know to act on the thing that?
Matt: Oh, no. It took me years to figure that stuff out, man. And I guess that’s, kind of, part of my backstory and I’ve done this before, right? And I’ve been in a similar situation where I’ve been miserable. So, I’ve had the exact same situation but been miserable, and so experiences like that teach me, okay, there must be something more going on here. If you can have the exact same event, if you can have the exact same situation and two people react to it in totally different ways, it can’t be the event or the situations creating the emotion, it must be something else. And that’s, kind of, what I’ve been figuring out, I suppose, over the last six to seven years. And it’s part of, kind of, what we help other people figure out as well.
Taylorr: Oh, that’s awesome.
Austin: That’s super valuable.
Taylorr: So, tell us more about that. Tell us about your backstory, man. How did you start doing the work you’re doing, helping creatives, freelancers, particularly, in the realm of attracting their dream clients, it sounds like? I don’t know about you, but you, kind of, just stumble into things along the way in life. I don’t know if you woke up one day and was like, I want to do this when I grow up. So, we, usually, find there’s a little bit of a story there that led you to where you are, so what put you down that path?
Matt: Yeah, a hundred percent. Well, rewind almost a decade now and I was, kind of, in a similar situation. So, I was traveling the world and I built this, creative agency is a loose term; it was a, kind of, totally remote team. I just read the four hour work week, so I was under this impression that I was going to be a one-man band with all of these freelancers all over the world delivering the work for me. And I remember it vividly like it was yesterday and I’m sat, I’d been traveling for about six months and I’d gone all around the world with this remote business.
I’d been posting Instagram photos like there was no tomorrow, I had one of those accounts that you come across, which is like, Mondays are fine, you just hate your job. You wish you were me travelling the world, aren’t I so cool. And there was this point I got to, I was in Canada and I was snowboarding and it was, probably, a Tuesday afternoon and I’m sat on the side of this mountain, I have this incredible view, there are people whizzing past on skis and snowboards next to me. And I’m sat there and I take this photo. I still have it; I use it in my presentation sometimes.
I take this photo of, kind of, my snowboard strapped to my feet with this incredible view in the background, I’m about to upload it to Instagram when I just get this really, kind of, visceral gut-feeling that I’m being totally disingenuous. I don’t know if you’ve ever had this where you go to record a video and post it on your story or you do something and you’re like, Hey, look how cool this is. But behind the scenes you know the reality is you’re pretty unhappy or stuff’s not really how you’re portraying it. And so, I, kind of, stopped in that moment, I was like; I’m not going to post this photo.
And then, literally, in that second a message came through on my phone from my mom just saying, call me now, I need to talk to you. Which is never a good message to get from your mom when you’re the other side of the world, right? And so, I called my mom and, basically, it turns out that a close family friend had died suddenly and unexpectedly. And so, I was like, this is a pretty big deal. I came back to the UK, I was like, I want to be with people, I want to be present and not the other side of the world.
And it was one of those moments I’m sure a lot of people have had, especially recently with things like COVID and all of the crazy stuff that’s going on in the world at the moment. Where you just, kind of, sit there and you reflect and you, kind of, look at yourself in the mirror and you say like, is this really what I want to be doing? What’s going on? Because I’m traveling the world and from the outside it looks like I’m super successful, but behind the scenes I have this sense of deep, kind of, unfulfillment and just that I’m a bit lost and a bit bored. And so, the realization that I, kind of, had in that moment after watching a bunch of TED talks and listening to self-help videos and all of the stuff that we do when we’re a little bit lost or at least I do.
I had this realization that, A; I’d left a job, where I had one boss, to start a business where it now felt like I had about 20 bosses. And I was, kind of, in this position where the relationship that I had with the clients in my business was just toxic. I was in a bad relationship, right? And I was doing work for people that I didn’t really like. I was just saying, yes, to whatever came my way because I just needed to fund this extravagant travel life, which really wasn’t, actually, that extravagant, but it was like that was my purpose. It was like traveling was the thing that I thought was going to bring me the fulfillment.
And it just, kind of, felt like if I wasn’t doing this work, if I wasn’t building the website, helping with the marketing, doing all of this stuff, then someone else would. I was just another, kind of, tool and this client, as long as it was within their budget, within their price, then they were happy, but as soon as it was a little bit over, they’re like, no worries, we’ll just go to someone else. And I just felt totally disposable.
And so, I guess I just knew that something had to change in that moment and I, kind of, decided, well, I’d, probably, rather be broke and working on really cool projects and doing something that’s really meaningful and fills me with a sense of purpose, than just being able to have this travel lifestyle and work with clients that I didn’t really want to work with. And I was lucky enough to meet and, kind of, have in my network already, some very successful entrepreneurs, people that are built multiple seven-figure businesses consistently and they sold them and people that are just crushing it and they, kind of, seem to be happy.
And so, I’m the, kind of, person who’s like, I don’t know what you guys are like, but when I have problems I have to tell people about them, right? I can’t just bottle it up inside, I have to go and talk to everybody about what’s going on in my life and what the challenges are. So, I started just sharing this with people and it was super interesting, because I realized that there were just some fundamental principles that I had totally ignored in my business. So, things that are, kind of, business 101 that I just never either really thought about or I just got completely wrong.
And I think what had happened, and you mentioned this earlier, which happens to a lot of people, is that I’d spent so long mastering a craft, trying to get good at building websites and web design and marketing and all of that stuff, that I totally neglected the business of creativity. I was just going, Hey, I have this skill, someone can pay me for it. Who’s out there that can pay me? And I was just saying, basically, yes, to anybody that that was going to pay me, right? And so, I, kind of, went on this journey over the next few years of spending what little money I had left on mentors and coaches and taking these people out for dinner and just trying to, kind of, absorb as much information as possible from the people that, kind of, appeared to have both worlds.
They had the purpose and the impact and they also had the financial side of it. And what was fascinating was out of all of the things that I learned, there were three to five, kind of, key principles that it seemed that myself and a bunch of other people in my network weren’t following or weren’t making. And so, I just started to share this with my clients that I’d kept, I, basically, made a decision that I was going to fire about 80% of my clients because there was only 20% that I, actually, liked. And it just so happened that they were all other creatives, basically.
And so, I started just sharing the stuff that I was learning with them. I was like, hey, by the way, have you thought of this? Have you thought of that? And they started to implement it. And what blew my mind was the things that I was sharing for free just because they were my clients and I liked them, were having more impact on their bottom line than all of the stuff that they had paid us to do. And I was like, something is wrong here, that is backward. What is going on? And I guess the business just, kind of, evolved, because I learned to, instead of focusing on my skills and the things that I had built up over the years, I learned to really listen to the clients.
And, instead of thinking about like, what did I want to do; I started thinking about who did I want to help? What problems did I want to solve? And by switching my focus from internal me, what do I want? I want to travel the world and I want this great business and I want these things to external, like who do I want to help? All of a sudden I started to feel this sense of purpose. I started to feel this, oh, actually, there’s a problem out there which isn’t just about web design or marketing or whatever. It’s more fundamental than that. And there’s some psychological stuff that really fascinates me and how people perceive themselves. And I started to realize how all of the things that happened to me up until this point, kind of, as Steve Jobs says in his famous Stanford commencement speech, you can only join the dots looking backwards.
And so, when I started to focus on the who and the problem, I realized that I was, actually, in a unique position to help very specific people, which Taylorr already alluded to is, kind of, freelancers and small agency owners. Because that journey that I’d been on, I realized once I had, kind of, figured a lot of stuff out, that there was a bunch of other people that were in the exact same position that I was in, just five years behind, kind of, thing. And so, yeah, I just thought, well, what about if I turn this into a business? Because I’d always been, as you could, probably, tell from when we first started talking, I’d always been into, kind of, personal development.
I’d always been fascinated with learning about how the mind works and all of that kind of stuff. And so, all of a sudden, I started to think about, instead of just focusing on that skillset that I’d been focusing on for the past few years of web design and marketing and things like that. What about if everything that I’d ever experienced in my life in some way, shape or form, actually put me in a unique position to solve a problem for someone? And it’s like those combination of things were the key to solving that problem, not just that one skillset.
And so, when I started focusing on that, it gave me this whole new lease of life, because it was like, imagine if I could build a business out of all of these things that I love, out of all of the things I’m interested in, but more importantly build a business around people that I, actually, want to help and problems that I feel passionately about solving. And so, for me, that was the switch and that was where the new business, if you like, was born and just, kind of, evolved from there. And it started like, kind of, marketing consultancy, business consultancy for creatives and creative agencies, and we used to work with artists and all kind of things, and it’s just evolved gradually.
But one thing that’s never changed is the passion for the problem, which is, essentially, the root of the problem is that most creatives never went to business school. They went to learn how to create and do the thing that they’re good at and they’re just lacking some fundamental, it’s not even knowledge, it’s just fundamental principles around business that can allow them to be so much more fulfilled in the work they do. Have way more freedom when it comes to who they work with, when they work, all of that kind of stuff.
And more importantly, the, kind of, financial security and the financial side of things that when we can stop worrying about paying the bills or how we’re going to feed our staff or all of that stuff, that’s when really you, kind of, get into that self-actualization and that’s when you can really create your best work, I believe.
Austin: Man, that’s so true.
Taylorr: What beautiful story.
Austin: We see, yeah, we see the exact same thing with the creatives that we work with; speakers, coaches, consultants, authors, podcasters, trainers, entertainers, they all, sort of, fit into this category where, typically, there’s a craft that’s been developed over time, and though, they’re really good at delivering that craft, it doesn’t, necessarily, translate into a successful business. And so there’s a steep learning curve or a brick wall that you end up hitting over time when you realize like, oh, I have to level up my larger skillset around running a business before it’s going to really go anywhere. And you gave a couple of really good examples of that, knowing who the best person is to take advantage of your expertise and where to find them.
And I’m curious from your angle, what are some of those other business fundamentals that you see are missing from a lot of creative businesses outside of ideal client profile, let’s label it, and maybe knowing what problem you solve?
Matt: Yeah, there are, actually, three things. I, basically, went through this exercise where I took everything that I’d learned, almost every book I’d read, every seminar I’d been to, every coach that I’d worked with and tried to just say, if I had to boil this down into three core principles, three key things that, basically, everybody is saying, what would that be? And it took me a while, but, essentially, what I realized is the three things that every, kind of, creative business owner needs to do, if they want to find the right clients, if they want to charge more money, if they want to have the, kind of, freedom to pick and choose who they work with is, number one, they have to differentiate themselves from the competition.
If you can’t differentiate yourselves from another studio that offers the same service as you, then automatically you just become a commodity. And clients look at you and they say, oh, yeah, I understand what you do. Animation, photography, design, whatever. And these guys also do that. Let’s go see how much they charge, how much do you charge? And from a client’s perspective, it’s like looking at cars, it’s like, oh, it’s a BMW or it’s an Audi or whatever. It’s like there are only certain amount of things that you can tweak, but, probably, a lot of your purchase is going to be decided on how much does this cost, right? Because there’s no differentiation.
The second thing is the way that we communicate with those people, and there are a few, kind of, facets to this, which we could, probably, dive into, but essentially it’s around how consistently you’re able to communicate with your ideal clients. And when you communicate with them, what are you saying? Are you able to articulate their problems better than they can? Are you able to really understand what’s going on in their world and present an offer to them that is going to fix those problems and that is really clear how it fixes those problems?
And then the third and final thing is the delivery. How do you, actually, deliver your services? And most agencies these days are trading time for money in some form or another. So, actually, it’s, kind of, an exponential curve, but in the wrong way. So, the better they get, the more effective they get, the less they get paid, or the less that they can charge.
Austin: That’s a good point.
Matt: Yeah. And what it also means is that they can never really step away from the business. And so, these, kind of, higher-level things that we need to think about as creatives, whether it’s strategy or direction or, kind of, bringing all of your background and knowledge and skillset together in order to solve this problem. You don’t get a chance to do that because you’re stuck in the day-to-day of, if we don’t deliver this project, we’re not going to get paid or the client’s not going to be happy or whatever. And so, even simple things like taking a holiday or not checking your emails on the weekend or whatever, it’s like they’re tied into the business in some form.
So, the final thing they need to do is, essentially, instead of selling services, sell products, so it’s, kind of, productizing the service so that it has a repeatable, predictable outcome and it has steps in that process that other members of your team can follow and deliver that end result for the client whether you’re there or not. And so, that’s, kind of, the process of unpacking your intellectual property and understanding, actually, how you get the result that you get for your client. So, essentially, what I created, well, I wrote a book about it, which, actually, if you guys are up for putting in the show notes, I’m giving away a bunch of free copies, so I can put a link.
Taylorr: Great. Heck, yeah.
Matt: For anyone that wants to, kind of, dive down a little bit more into these. Writing a book is such a great way to just get all of the stuff out of your head down onto paper and consolidate it. But, yeah, I, kind of, wrote a book and put it in a framework, but, essentially, when it comes to those fundamental business things, it’s really just about those three core pillars. How do you differentiate yourself from the competition? How do you communicate the value of what you do to your ideal clients consistently? And how do you deliver that result to them in a way that is scalable, predictable, and repeatable?
Taylorr: Oh, man, those are just the golden truths right there.
Austin: Right. That’s a wrap.
Taylorr: And what I love about that final bit, that’s right, let’s end it. What I love about that final bit about developing a process is that it’s almost like a feedback loop in a way back to differentiation. I don’t know what you found in your own experience, but what we found is that once you have a process that you can coin, that you label, something that you walk through with every single time with somebody; it’s a very small likelihood anybody else that they’re benchmarking you against, your competition, has that exact same process. And that can reinforce the differentiation aspect of what you do, because chances are fewer people have labeled a process that they follow to achieve the outcome you’re promising in the conversations that you’re communicating in step two, for example. Am I on the right track there?
Matt: Absolutely. The offer is definitely one or the deliverables in the way, your process is definitely one of the ways that you can differentiate yourself. To add another layer to that, the way that we use differentiation is we talk a little bit more around niche. So, we, actually, do an exercise with our clients. You know I said to you, I came to this realization with the help of some mentors and coaches, but I came to this realization that I was in a unique position to solve a problem for someone. So, everything that had happened to me, all of my interests, all of my themes, all of those things, kind of, came together. We do that with our clients.
So, real quick example for you. There’s a guy I love talking about, Scott. When I first started working with Scott, he, kind of, told me, I run a design studio, I’m a designer, I’m passionate about design. I’m like, cool, man, great, happy for you, but you just sound like every other designer in the world. So, how do we differentiate you? And we started to unpack his story and he started to bring things about these expeditions he’s been on in Nepal and how he goes climbing every week, and, all of a sudden, it started to really add up to me. And if you see a photo of Scott, he’s quite a bohemian guy; he’s quite into, obviously, into his outdoor and adventure.
And so, I was like, Scott, how can you bring more of this into your business? And so, we, kind of, differentiated by, instead of him just being just a design studio, it was like, actually, what we specialize in, and we specialize in helping outdoor and adventure brands to bring their ideas to life through visually engaging content. And so, one of the fastest ways people can differentiate is just to be specific about who they help and, usually, they’re already being pointed in that direction. When you look back through your story and you look at your passions, you look at who you hang out with, you look at the experiences you’ve had in your life, it’s already, kind of, pointing you in a direction.
And, as a result of that, Scott won Red Bull as a client and the way that he did that was because he was communicating consistently, but he was doing it in a way that was relevant to the people that he wanted to work with, rather than surrounding it around design. Because those people, unless they’re specifically looking for a designer, in which case they, probably, already have some people in their mind who exist in their network and they’re like, oh, we need some design, let’s go to Bob or whatever.
Unless they’re at that stage, if they’re not looking for design and they’re just thinking about their current problems and what’s going on in their business, they’re not going to relate to Scott who’s a designer; it’s not relevant to their world. They will have, however, relate to Scott who’s been on this expedition and who’s done this crazy climb, because that’s what they’re into, right? And so, then you build a real genuine connection and that gives you the opportunity to, kind of, dig down and uncover what’s going on in their business.
And 9 times out of 10, if you’ve done this correctly, what you’ll see is you’ll hear some challenges, you’ll hear some things that they’re experiencing, which you know you can use your combination of skills, network, passions, all of the stuff in your story to solve that problem. And I think when people realize that; it totally transforms the way that they not only think about themselves, but also how they think about their business.
Austin: Oh, man, this is a message that needs to get shared far and wide for as long as possible, because it’s so true. There’s a far more eloquent phrase than I’m about to use for this, but something like, if you try to appeal to everyone, you appeal to no one, right? Because to your point, people want to connect with people that they feel like understand them. We’re very social creatures and just the nature of humanity is that we want to feel understood, and so if we take that seriously, then the best way that we can do that is to just let our truest selves shine through.
Because, though you won’t appeal to everyone, the people that do resonate with it are going to be far more likely to be able to dig deep with you and you’ll be able to have the opportunity to help them feel understood. And then as soon as somebody feels understood, as long as you have a solution to their problem, they’ll, probably, go with you, there’s no reason not to. So, yeah, this is one of the biggest problems that we see people have in this space and I think it’s really important that people understand that their unique story is the thing that makes them sellable, it’s not just the service, which they can find anywhere.
Matt: Yeah, well, it’s the only thing that makes them unique. Wverything else can be copied; your style, the clients you’ve worked with on your portfolio, the way you deliver your service, the quality of your service, all of the things that people say differentiate them from their competition. It’s like whether your competition can deliver that or not is another question, but they can definitely say it. And there are plenty of people out there who can say it in a more convincing way than you and will, probably, get the work even if they can’t do it as well as you can, and that’s often what people find is the frustrating thing about this whole process.
Taylorr: Yeah, man. So, it seems, to me, that not only are focusing on those three things that you outline; differentiation, communicating your value consistently and so on, does that tie-in to being more purposeful or being more fulfilled in the business, doing the things you like, attracting your ideal clients. But it would seem to me, as well, that if all of those things are in place, pricing your services would be a lot easier because you’re not being benched-mark or pricing for the services that you want to make, the money that you want to make, would be a lot easier because you’re not pricing yourself as a commodity anymore.
So, do you find that prices increase for those services as someone perfects those three things? Or are there other components to being able to command the fees that one wants?
Matt: There are definitely other components, but a hundred percent. Because there’s nothing else to compare it to, right? And one thing that we try and drill home to our clients is that price is relative. And people seem to forget that. If you say like, just throw a number at someone, a hundred thousand dollars; is that a lot of money or not a lot of money? Well, it totally depends, what are you comparing it to, right? A hundred thousand dollars is not a lot for a million dollar home, right? But it is a lot for a watch.
So, if people don’t have any benchmark, then what they should be benchmarking it to is what is the potential upside of us helping you solve this problem? And what is the potential downside of you not solving that problem? And what we encourage our clients to do is just go after people or go and help people where that is a big gap, right? Whether potential upside is big and the potential downside is big. So, there’s a big problem to solve.
Taylorr: Heck, yeah.